The Sarajevo women's group that protested the local production of "In the Land of Blood and Honey," a Bosnian war drama that includes explicit sex scenes between a Muslim woman and her Serbian captor, had reason to be concerned.
Its writer and director is Angelina Jolie, a woman synonymous with a movie industry not known for its sensitive treatment of subjects like rape and genocide. Jolie's decade-long tenure as a UN goodwill ambassador, active in trouble spots like Cambodia and Darfur, didn't count for much with the protesters, nor did her use of an all-Bosnian cast. Ultimately, Jolie's production shifted to Hungary.
Jolie's film, however, should prove that she's not just another celebrity dabbling in current events. It's a tough, clear-eyed look at a ghastly ethnic war, with an admirably wide perspective that affords compassion for both sides. It's also an impressively confident debut, free of ego or agenda -- not what you might have expected from the star of "The Tourist."
Serbs are clearly seen as aggressors in the ethnic conflict that shattered Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s, but everyone here is in some way a victim.
Before the war, Ajla and her Serbian boyfriend, Danijel -- played by Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic in deeply soulful performances -- dance together in a nightclub, a mundane evening that eventually seems like a lost paradise. Danijel, now a soldier, tries to keep Ajla safe -- and to himself -- while hiding her from his ruthless father, General Nebojsa (Rade erbedija).
Tense and brutal but never manipulative or sensational, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" feels like what you'd normally expect from a foreign film. It may also mean a whole new way of looking at its supposedly Hollywood director.
PLOT During the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, a Muslim woman becomes a prisoner of her Serbian boyfriend. RATING R (violence, nudity, language, adult themes)
CAST Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade erbedija.
PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema
BOTTOM LINE A confident filmmaking debut from Angelina Jolie that takes a tough but compassionate look at a ghastly ethnic war.